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Splintered Migrant Caravan Groups Arrive At US Border

Migrants, who are part of the Central American caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, wait in line to board buses in La Concha, Mexico, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018.
Associated Press
Migrants, who are part of the Central American caravan hoping to reach the U.S. border, wait in line to board buses in La Concha, Mexico, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018.
Splintered Migrant Caravan Groups Arrive At US Border
Splintered Migrant Caravan Groups Arrive At US Border GUESTS: Priya Sridhar, reporter, KPBS News Jean Guerrero, border reporter, KPBS News

Our top story. Hundreds of Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana Tuesday. The group whose splintered off from the migrant caravan arrived only days after President Trump signed an executive order barring anyone who crosses the U.S. Mexico border illegally from applying for asylum. Migrants from an earlier caravan have waited for weeks and sometimes months in Tijuana shelters to request asylum from the US. As reporters. Schriefer and Jean Guerrero who is actually outside of a shelter there in Tijuana. Jean I want to start with you. The caravan wasn't expected to arrive in Tijuana for weeks. How was this group able to get here so quickly so the people I've been speaking with today tell me that they got but to get from the government that the state of Jalisco governor they got money for bus tickets to come here. So I was talking to a city official today who says that actually another 370 arrived this morning. That's in addition to about 360 from yesterday and the group of 80 that came on Sunday. Today more than 800 or 900 people from the caravan in Tijuana. Now I'm outside of a shelter where they were just having breakfast with Mexican city officials outside registering them. And they've got trucks out here and actually looking at one right now they're piling members of the caravan into the back of the truck. Mexico's next mexi was immigration. And they're driving them to shelters across the city in Pria some of the members of the group went to Border Field State Park late Tuesday night. Paint the scene for us. Yeah. So there was about 50 people who appeared to have gotten off a bus and they were in the Mexican Park which is adjacent to Border Field State Park. We can't confirm whether these people were actually from the caravan. But reports have been that they they were in fact part of that group that Jeanne was just talking about. So U.S. Border Patrol sent additional agents and resources to the park. There was a little bit of a standoff. People from both sides just sort of staring at each other. CBP did tell me that a few people did cross over and then they essentially ran back across without needing any intervention from the agents. But they say that they're remaining alert. They were armed. There were people on quads. There were helicopters flying in the air. There was a drone on the Mexican side which appeared to be monitoring the crowd. And there was also workers putting up that extra concertina wire to help deter and stop people from trying to scale that fence. Jeanne what have members of the group told you they plan to do so the ones that I've spoken to today I was actually surprised. I spoke to five men from El Salvador who told me that they had a plan to jump the fence today because they've heard that their long wait times at the ports and that they're just not willing to wait. They told me that they're with the caravan. I don't know because I wasn't with the caravan in southern Mexico. But what I can say is it does appear that they are the exception in the group because the people who I've spoken to in the caravan over the phone over the past few weeks they've all said that they they want to seek asylum legally in the U.S. that they want to wait in line. I spoke to one man from Honduras today who said that he'll wait as long as it takes he wants to do this process legally and is going to put his name down the legal way at the port. And Jeanne another group of migrants is expected to arrive later today in shelters in Tijuana are reportedly full where will these migrants stay while they decide what to do next. So there are there's room for over a thousand migrants at the shelters in Tijuana. But as we noted thousands coming. And so city officials are basically trying to figure that out right now. They propose setting some of these migrants over to Mexicali. But the activists that I've spoken to who are trying to coordinate the migrants to make sure that their human rights are respected say that they they're looking for just one faith with everybody can sleep together. Like for example a stadium in Tijuana. Because they want to keep everyone together for for safety and for unity. But it's unclear if they're going to be able to find one location where they can keep this surplus of people who don't fit in the shelters. Now Apria How long has the government said it will take to process migrants asylum request. So they can't give a specific number of hours or days. They said it really depends on the type of people that calm their medical conditions their background their criminal records. We did get a chance to hear from Pete florist's who's the director of field operations with CBP. So let's take a listen to what he had to say. Our processing facilities can efficiently hold for processing about 300 persons at one time depending on the demographic characteristics of the individual groups or families that request asylum or admission. Our officers have to determine accommodations based on health and safety for all those present inside our venue. So he went on to say that on a typical day actually only point 0 1 percent of cross-border traffic is people actually seeking asylum but they take up about 9 percent of the S.A.S. DROs CBP officer staff. So really it depends on the resources they do have people on standby across the country if there does in fact become an influx of migrants seeking asylum. At this particular port they'll send additional resources to try to process those people faster. And Jeanne what can you tell us about wait times based on your reporting. Yes so it's important to note there have been asylum seekers arriving in Tijuana for months and there's been a backlog at the Sydney Theatre port of entry for months. People being told that that the ports are at capacity and that they're going to have to wait. So I've been looking at the asylum seekers process of having to wait. Basically they've improvised this no it's just a tattered notebook with hundreds of names in it and people come out after putting their name in the notebook and they listened to see if their names are called. Generally what happens is CBP tells Mexican officials when they're ready for new people. Typically it's about 50 in a day and then the Mexican official held the asylum seekers who consult the notebook. So the backlog and wait lists and I do know that some of the people who've been waiting for weeks sometimes months are very concerned that the rhetoric around this caravan. And a lot of the response that we're seeing from the United States to the caravan is going to hurt their chances of entering the United States because it's most likely that the caravan migrants will be putting their names in the notebook as well and creating a much larger longer backlog and Pria. Just Tuesday the U.S. government announced it was starting the process of hardening the border what does that entail exactly. So that's really where the military is coming into play. We know that there is more than 5000 troops who have been deployed along the southwest border about 11 hundred of those are right here in the San Diego area. And what they did or what CBP did was they assessed all the different ports of entry and tried to find any vulnerabilities that they have. And then along the fence any holes there trying to plug those also install concertina wire like I mentioned before. And you guys may have noticed that along the border they've actually shut down several lanes of traffic that are going northbound and what they're doing there is prepositioning different concrete barriers and barricades in anticipation for this influx of people and there's no indication as to when those lanes will reopen. So there is going to probably be even longer wait times than normal because of all of this in Pria why did the government say the hardening is even necessary. So they said that a lot of the wall is essentially falling down breaking apart some of the parts of the wall were built decades ago and now that there could be potentially an influx of people there saying that this is a threat to national security and that's why the military was necessary to come down here to help rebuild those areas essentially making it harder for people to illegally try to either step over the wall jump over the wall find a crack in the walls so they're basically just trying to reinforce structurally what's already there. I've been speaking with PBS reporters Pria Schriefer and Jean Guerrero. Thank you both. Thank you.

Some migrants in a caravan of Central Americans have made long leaps forward in their journey to the U.S. border, with a first sizable group arriving in the border city of Tijuana, while others on Wednesday were left stranded far behind.

Authorities were struggling to deal with the group of 357 migrants who arrived in Tijuana aboard nine buses Tuesday and immediately went to a stretch of border fence to celebrate.

A couple of dozen migrants scaled the steel border fence to celebrate their arrival, chanting "Yes, we could!" and one man dropped over to the U.S. side briefly as border agents watched from a distance. He ran quickly back to the fence.

Tijuana's head of migrant services, Cesar Palencia Chavez, said authorities offered to take the migrants to shelters immediately, but they initially refused.

"They wanted to stay together in a single shelter," Palencia Chavez said, "but at this time that's not possible" because shelters are designed for smaller groups and generally offer separate facilities for men, women and families.

But he said that after their visit to the border, most were taken to shelters in groups of 30 or 40.

With a total of three caravans moving through Mexico including 7,000 to 10,000 migrants in all, questions arose as to how Tijuana would deal with such a huge influx, especially given U.S. moves to tighten border security and make it harder to claim asylum.

On Wednesday, buses and trucks carried some migrants into the state of Sinaloa along the Gulf of California and further northward into the border state of Sonora.

The bulk of the main caravan appeared to be about 1,100 miles (1,800 kilometers) from the border, but was moving hundreds of miles per day.

Other migrants, however, were still stranded in the west-central state of Jalisco because they couldn't get rides.

About 1,300 migrants in a second caravan were resting at a stadium in Mexico City, where the first group had stayed last week.

The Rev. Miguel Angel Soto, director of the Casa de Migrante — House of the Migrant — in the Sinaloa capital of Culiacan, said about 2,000 migrants had arrived in that area. He said the state government, the Roman Catholic Church and Escuinapa officials were helping the migrants.

The priest also said the church had been able to get "good people" to provide buses for moving migrants northward. He said so far 24 buses had left Escuinapa on an eight-drive to Navojoa in Sonora state.

Some small groups had broken off along the way and went on ahead, either using buses, trains or long-haul truck rides to get to the border quicker. Small groups were reported in the northern cities of Saltillo and Monterrey, in the region near Texas.

Many say they are fleeing poverty, gang violence and political instability in the Central American countries of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Mexico has offered refuge, asylum or work visas, and its government said Monday that 2,697 temporary visas had been issued to individuals and families to cover them during the 45-day application process for more permanent status. Some 533 migrants had requested a voluntary return to their countries, the government reported.

The U.S. government said it was starting work Tuesday to "harden" the border crossing from Tijuana ahead of the caravans.

Customs and Border Protection announced it was closing four lanes at the busy San Ysidro and Otay Mesa ports of entry in San Diego, California, so it could install infrastructure.

That still leaves a substantial path for the tens of thousands of people who cross daily: Twenty-three lanes remain open at San Ysidro and 12 at Otay Mesa.

San Ysidro is the border's busiest crossing, with about 110,000 people entering the U.S. every day. That traffic includes some 40,000 vehicles, 34,000 pedestrians and 150 to 200 buses.